Disclaimer: I do not own the characters, or the overall plot. I can only lay claim to the specifics.
A.N. Once again, I do not know if all the peripheral circumstances are historically accurate or coincide with one another. If it bothers you that much, pretend it's an AU.
Helga Hufflepuff: Scottish Border
Helga Hufflepuff bustled about the room that was essentially the kitchen in the small cottage she lived in with her father, but which had the components of other rooms as well. In the immediate years after her mother had died, she had taken over all the jobs her mother had left behind from housework to healing, but since her father’s accident she had taken over his responsibilities as well.
Leaning over she stirred the cauldron of stew hanging over the cooking fire before heading outside to the small lean-to structure where she and her father kept the few chickens they managed to trade for. Ducking inside she expertly collected the few eggs the hens gave and then went around the back of the house to the small garden and picked the food that had ripened since the previous day before returning to the house. Inside the kitchen she chopped the vegetables and dumped them into the cauldron and added a few of the herbs that were hanging from the rafters. Bringing the spoon up to her mouth she tested the stew and grimaced at its blandness. She had known it would be bland with no meat to flavor it when she had made it, but it was hot and maybe it would help her father. Briefly she had considered using one of the chickens but the chickens would provide for them longer alive than they would dead.
Dropping the spoon back into the cauldron she grabbed a skillet from one of the hooks attached to the wall and cracked three of the eggs into it before bringing it over to the fire where she knelt and held the skillet over the fire for the eggs to cook. When she heard a shuffling step behind her she didn’t bother to look up, but merely called out in greeting, “Good morning father! How is your leg today?”
Her father paused and then chuckled gruffly, “Much better Helga. Are you sure you don’t want me to help you with the work today?”
Standing she took one look at his lank frame stooped over the crude walking stick and shook her head, “No. I’ll be just fine. Stay here and let your leg heal properly, and in the meantime enjoy the rest. Once you’re well enough to work, who knows when you’ll get your next break?
Shaking his head in amusement he gingerly lowered himself onto the one chair and propped his foot up on the stool. Turning back to the skillet in the fire she quickly pulled it off and cutting off a thick slice of bread from the loaf she placed it on the trencher followed by the eggs and passed it to her father. Gratefully he accepted the dish and ate slowly savouring the food. Normally breakfast was only a thin slice of bread as it was for her, but he was injured and needed to regain his health. Gathering her own breakfast she quickly banked the fire and kissed her father’s cheek in parting before hurrying out the door. Outside the day was chilly in the damp early morning but she ignored it and simply pulled her thin shawl more tightly about her shoulders. Walking over the wagon she had hitched to the pony earlier she climbed up easily onto the seat and spurred the old beast into motion.
As she rode through the quiet hamlet she took notice once more of the poorly thatched homes, some even falling into quick disrepair after having been vacated by the families which had lived in them for generations only to be displaced by the English lairds. Things had not been good for the Scottish people since the English took over.
Sighing she looked forward and spurred the pony into a brisker walk and when she reached the last house that marked the hamlet she could take it no longer. Pulling the pony to a stop she climbed down and taking the thin slices of bread she had cut for breakfast, she placed them wrapped carefully in their cloth at the base of the door.
That house she knew belonged to an older woman widowed some years ago and unable to work any longer having lost most of her sight. Helga was not worried about leaving the bread in the open though; the woman would get it even if someone else had to bring it to her notice. It was an old Scottish hamlet with older families who had lived here for centuries, and at the end of that week the older woman was to be evicted. They all knew it, and she knew it, but nobody had the space or the food to care for her.
Helga sat at her table, brow furrowed in concern as she stared about the market. Despite having been set up for quite a number of hours, most of the cloth and thread she had brought to sell were still laid out on the table. She knew why of course, the bloody English were to blame. The English and the clearances.
Ever since the English had been putting their lairds on Scottish soil more and more Scots were being evicted from their homes so that the land could be cleared for the sheep. There had always been sheep before naturally, but now the sheep were beginning to outnumber the Scots. Now without a home, food, land or money only the nobility could afford to buy anymore, and the wool she sold was of too humble a quality for their high and mighty selves.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw two children huddled together in the entrance of an abandoned building. The eldest of them couldn’t be older than ten years of age, and they sat watching something on the street. Following their gaze Helga saw that they were eyeing the baker’s cart. She looked to them again and saw the soot and dirt on their exposed skin and in their clothes, which though small still hung loosely like sacks over their malnourished frames.
At that point the eldest seemed to realize they were being watched and met her gaze with a mixture of fear and defiance, and Helga firmly made up her mind then. Taking some of the money she had so far earned and a length of yarn she walked to the baker’s cart and quickly bought the largest loaf of bread that her money could buy and walked over to the children. Kneeling down before them she first held out the bread and when they had taken it greedily she took the length of yarn and tied the two ends together and put her hands in the loop. Twisting her fingers expertly she soon had created a cradle or crate like shape and held it out to the children. When they merely looked at her in confusion she offered instructions to them showing them how to pinch the string at either side between their forefinger and thumbs and then pull it off her fingers making a different shape. It was an old game she had learned as a child and it had helped pass the time.
Once they seemed to get the hang of it, she stood and left them playing happily now with grins on their faces and bread in their stomachs and returned to her table. It was only when she sat down that she noticed something odd, coins on the table but nothing was missing. Glancing up she looked around and as her gaze came to the baker it stopped for the man had been waiting and as her eyes fell on him he nodded quickly and then returned to hawking his goods. True it was not the full price she had paid, but then she hadn’t been expecting anything at all. There was a movement to her side and glancing up she saw a cloaked figure approach her table and stop.
He was close enough now that she could see beneath the hood of his cloak, and she was surprised to see that he was not only young and handsome, but also appeared to be wealthy. His clothing was of a good make, the cloth tightly, but smoothly woven to keep the cold out. He stared down at her for a moment, his expression inscrutable before he said simply, “That was uncommonly kind."
Then his gaze dropped to her table and he scanned what lay there before selecting, oddly enough, and handkerchief embroidered around the edges with twisting, dark green ivy. Selecting it, he pulled some coins out of a leather bag hanging at his waist and dropped them down onto the table. Helga could do nothing but stare for a moment, and that was all it took for the man to walk off and disappear leaving only the large sum of money behind to indicate he had ever been there. The gold glinting up at her in the sunlight was more money than she had ever seen at one time in her life, and certainly more than the handkerchief was worth.
That thought brought her back to reality, and she glanced up to tell the man so but he had already left. Quickly she put the coins into her pocket with a smile on her face. Her father would enjoy the meat in his soup again.
Evening came and the vendors cleaned up their tables and mounted their carts as they returned home happy to have more money than they did that morning and at the same time despairing at its smallness, for there had been a time when they could return home pockets weighed with gold or cart laden with bartered goods, but no more. Nowadays people rarely bartered for they needed the money to much so that they could pay the taxes that would allow them to remain on their land. For that reason so many went about starving, barely clothed and on the streets until they died.
Climbing up into her own cart, Helga spotted the children she had helped earlier that day. Their father, as it turned out, was a woodcarver and now he rejoined them weary after an unsuccessful day at the market. His children however were ecstatic and the gift of the remaining bread they had saved for him brightened his features. He even smiled when they showed him their new game with the yarn, and that was enough for Helga.
Pulling her thin shawl up over her head she urged the carthorse forward and settled into the wooden seat. It had been a good day today, she thought with a smile. She had given to the children and received more than had originally been given. She had sold little, but was coming home with more than she ever had before: chicken to cook, gold still in her pocket, and the memory of the children.
A.N. Sorry that was a little short. At least, I consider it to be short, but whatever. Like it or not, feel free to comment!